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Leedy Manufacturing Co. Photograph Album

Leedy Manufacturing Co.  Search this
Former owner:
National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Musical Instruments  Search this
Leedy, Ulysses G., 1867-1931  Search this
0.15 Cubic feet (1 box)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Indianapolis (Ind.) -- 1920-1930
circa 1925
Photograph album documenting the Leedy Manufacturing Company, a maker of precussion instruments.
Scope and Contents:
This album documents the Leedy Manufacturing Co.'s production of a variety of percussion musical instruments, such as drums, tympani, xylophones, vibraphones, etc. There is a group portrait of the executive staff, assembled near the door of the plant: it is marked "Indianapolis" and "1925," along with the names "Leedy," [George H.] "Way," "Elsie Way," "Kuerst," and "Winterhoff." The work force stands outside the factory in another image, and interiors depict office scenes and manufacturing stages for several types of instruments. Machine shops and other work areas show workers and craftsmen operating belt-driven machine tools, lathes, drill presses, stamping presses, saws, etc. Storage areas for lumber and hides (for drum heads) are shown, as well as stock rooms for finished instruments and packing and shipping operations. The album contains 38 silver gelatin photoprints mounted on canvas pages, 6-3/4" x 10-3/4", several imprinted "Hoosier Photo Co." The album cover is plain and untitled.
One album of photographs. Photographs unarranged; they were separated from the album covers and the original image order, which did not seem significant, was not preserved.
Biographical / Historical:
As a child, Ulysses G. Leedy (1867-1931) bought his first drum from a Civil War drummer near his home in Fostoria, Ohio, and played for coins near the Baltimore & Ohio railroad station. He joined the 15th regimental drum corps in Ohio at age 14 and the Fostoria town band and orchestra at 18. Later, he became a member of the Great Western Band and was featured on drums and xylophone. He traveled widely as a musician and realizing the need that he and other percussionists had for a snare drum stand, he invented the first practical folding snare drum stand in 1890. Also in 1890, Leedy purchased parts from various manufacturers and made his first drum with the assistance of his father, a cabinet maker. After taking a position with an Indianapolis theater orchestra, he concurrently manufactured and sold drums, obtaining the wooden shells from his father and assembling drums in his basement.

Eventually Leedy resigned his theater position in order to devote his full attention to his burgeoning manufacturing business. In 1895 he and Sam Cooley, a clarinetist from the same orchestra, pooled $50.00 each and began to make Leedy drums, at first under the name of Leedy & Cooley , then the Leedy Manufacturing Company. The original factory was established in a room of the Cyclorama Building in Indianapolis. The firm prospered and a variety of instruments gradually were added to its product line. In 1902 Herman Winterhoff, a cellist, trombonist, and theater orchestra colleague, joined Leedy and Cooley to tune bells and xylophones, and Leroy Jeffries was hired as a mechanic and designer.

Leedy became sole owner in 1903. A brick factory building was erected in Indianapolis in 1903, but the rapidly expanding firm soon outgrew this facility and a three-story concrete building was erected adjacent to it in 1910. In 1920 the first building was razed and additions were made to the second building. By 1927 the expanded Leedy factory contained 78,450 square feet of space.

In 1916 Winterhoff, then a vice-president of the firm, began experimental work on vibrating tones in the steel marimba (Marimbaphone) and produced a device called the Vibratone, which had two rows of resonators moving up and down alternately. This and another model, with butterfly fans in the tops of the resonators which rocked back and forth in a semicircle, were unsuccessful due to noise. Finally in the 1920's Winterhoff and the Leedy engineers devised a practical instrument with rotating fans in the resonators which made complete, even revolutions. This Vibraphone, as it was called, soon became a familiar instrument in dance bands. The company's failure to realize the professional potential of this instrument led to the introduction of copies of the unpatented design by competitors.

The firm's line expanded to over 900 items, including sound-effect instruments for silent films. The most important products were the tympani designed by factory superintendent Cecil Strupe (patented 1923), using a foot pedal with a ratchet-and-pawl system clutch, linked to cables connected to the tensioning screws, with copper bowls formed in a hydraulic press.

C. G. Conn Co. Ltd., a leading band instrument manufacturer in Elkhart, Indiana, the "band instrument capital of the world," acquired control of Leedy in 1929, and in 1930 Leedy's operations were moved to Elkhart. The production of "Leedy" instruments was discontinued in 1958.


1. J-Leedy Mfg. Co., Inc. "Fifty Years of Drum Progress." Elkhart, Ind., 1945. Photocopy in Division of Musical Instruments. This publication contains several reproductions of images from the album as well as similar pictures not found in the album.

2. Leedy publications, including the catalog above, give 1895 as the date of the firm's inception, although 1900 is cited in the article on Leedy Manufacturing Co. by Edmund A. Bowles in: Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1984, Vol. 2, p. 512. Perhaps 1900 was the date of incorporation under the Leedy Manufacturing Co. name.

3. Leedy, op. cit ., p. 2

4. Bowles, op. cit

5. Ibid. Again, Bowles disagrees with Leedy company publications, stating that the Conn purchase occurred in 1927. The Leedy catalogs presumably are more reliable. Other articles in The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments provide additional information about connections between Leedy and other firms: Bowles, "Ludwig," Vol. 2, p. 543; Bowles, "Slingerland Drum Co., Vol. 3, p.405; and Carolyn Bryant, "Conn," Vol 1, p. 473.

6. Small captioned portrait of George H. Way in Leedy Mfg. Co., Inc. Leedy. World's Finest Drummers' Instruments, Catalog T. Elkhart, Ind. [1933], p. 1. Catalog in Warshaw Collection, National Museum of American History Archives Center. Cf . group portrait in album.
Purchased in 1985 from Keith Douglas de Lellis.
Collection is open for research.
Probably public domain due to expired copyrights. SI Negative Nos. 86-403 to 86-440. Fees for commercial use.
Drums -- 1920-1930  Search this
Marimbaphones -- 1920-1930  Search this
Manufacturing -- 1920-1930  Search this
Craftsmen -- 1920-1930  Search this
Xylophones -- 1920-1930  Search this
Musical instruments -- 1920-1930  Search this
Albums -- 1920-1930
Photographs -- Black-and-white photoprints -- Silver gelatin -- 1920-1930
Leedy Manufacturing Co. Photograph Album, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
See more items in:
Leedy Manufacturing Co. Photograph Album
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

[Man playing xylophone : nitrate film photonegative.]

Scurlock, Addison N., 1883-1964  Search this
Subseries Creator:
Scurlock Studio (Washington, D.C.)  Search this
Scurlock, Robert S. (Saunders), 1917-1994  Search this
Custom Craft  Search this
Scurlock, Addison N., 1883-1964  Search this
Scurlock, George H. (Hardison), 1919-2005  Search this
1 Item
Box 50
Archival materials
Nitrate negatives
General note:
Notes: In nitrate box
Subseries Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.

Gloves must be worn when handling unprotected photographs and negatives. Special arrangements required to view negatives due to cold storage. Using negatives requires a three hour waiting period. Contact the Archives Center at 202-633-3270.
Subseries Rights:
When the Museum purchased the collection from the Estate of Robert S. Scurlock, it obtained all rights, including copyright. The earliest photographs in the collection are in the public domain because their term of copyright has expired. The Archives Center will control copyright and the use of the collection for reproduction purposes, which will be handled in accordance with its standard reproduction policy guidelines. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Vaudeville  Search this
African American entertainers -- 20th century  Search this
Xylophones -- 1920-1930  Search this
Photographs -- Black-and-white negatives -- Nitrate film.
Nitrate negatives -- 1930-1940
Subseries Citation:
Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institution
See more items in:
Scurlock Studio Records, Subseries 4.1: Black-and-White Silver Gelatin Negatives
Scurlock Studio Records, Subseries 4.1: Black-and-White Silver Gelatin Negatives / 4.1: Black-and-White Silver Gelatin negatives
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

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